AAT for Alcohol Use Disorder in Veterans


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The proposed study will test a novel treatment for alcohol use disorders (AUD) to determine if it helps Veterans reduce their hazardous drinking and recover from alcohol-related functional impairments across social, occupational, and domestic domains. To do so, the investigators will evaluate clinical, cognitive, and neural effects of a computer-delivered Approach Avoidance Training (AAT) treatment - which changes implicit tendencies to approach alcohol-related cues - in conjunction with standard VA care. The project will support RR&D's mission to improve Veterans' participation in their lives and community by determining if this innovative alternative technique can improve recovery outcomes for Veterans with AUD and exploring how the intervention works.

Targeted Conditions

Study Overview

Start Date
February 3, 2023
Completion Date
April 3, 2026
Date Posted
May 12, 2022
Accepts Healthy Volunteers?


Full Address
VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA
San Diego, California 92161-0002, United States


Minimum Age (years)
Maximum Age (years)
Eligibility Criteria
Inclusion Criteria:

fluent in English
primary diagnosis of AUD with no more than 90 days abstinence from alcohol
4-week stability if taking psychotropic medications

Exclusion Criteria:

lifetime history of psychotic or bipolar disorder
neurodegenerative or neurodevelopmental disorders
history of moderate or severe traumatic brain injury or other known neurological condition
sensory deficits that would preclude completing tasks
suicidal or homicidal ideation within the past month necessitating urgent higher level care
concurrent individual psychotherapy or other treatment outside of standard DDRP programming
conditions unsafe for completing MRI scanning for those completing the scanning component only (e.g., metal in body)

Study Contact Info

Study Contact Name
Jessica A Bomyea, PhD; Andrea Spadoni Townsend, PhD
Study Contact Phone

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Other Details

FDA Regulated Drug?
FDA Regulated Device?
Detailed Description
Veterans with alcohol use disorders (AUD) would be greatly served by development of effective interventions to address high relapse rates and difficulty with resuming optimal functional recovery (i.e., re-engaging in vocational, social, and daily life roles that are critical to maintaining alcohol consumption goals). Approach bias toward alcohol, an implicit motivational response to alcohol cues observable across behavioral and neural indicators, is a core feature of AUD that impedes recovery but is not routinely treated in standard care. Treatment options that target approach bias may improve outcomes by decreasing the appetitive pull of alcohol, so that individuals are better able to disengage from habitual drinking behaviors in the service of their functional goals and objectives. Approach Avoidance Training (AAT) is a computer-delivered treatment program that shifts behavioral and neural indicators of approach bias for alcohol and has been shown to improve drinking-related outcomes in AUD when used in conjunction with standard care. Given the promise of this intervention for AUD, there is a critical need to determine if this treatment can be successfully used for Veterans who commonly present with complex comorbidities, and to pinpoint cognitive and neurobiological processes of change. The overall objectives of this proposal are to determine whether Alcohol Approach Avoidance Training (AAT) improves recovery outcomes in Veterans undergoing standard care for AUD with co-occurring conditions, and to identify the underlying cognitive and neural substrates modified. The central hypothesis is that AAT training will improve critical recovery outcomes for Veterans and improve behavioral and neural indicators of approach bias. The investigators will explore whether effects of AAT generalize to related top-down and bottom-up neurocognitive processes. The investigators will also explore potential predictors of treatment response. The overall objectives will be addressed in a randomized controlled trial of 136 Veterans completing standard care in the local VA setting with either AAT or a control condition. Aim 1 will determine if repeatedly practicing avoidance of alcohol cues through AAT can improve recovery outcomes and hazardous drinking. Aim 2 will determine if AAT modifies approach bias by measuring this construct with multiple assessment methods (i.e., behavioral, fMRI). Exploratory aims will examine if AAT modifies inhibition (top-down) and cue reactivity (bottom up) processing, and the extent to which baseline comorbidity severity, treatment engagement characteristics, or baseline approach bias (behavioral task reaction times, brain response during fMRI) are associated with clinical outcomes. The project is expected to determine if AAT shows clinical potential that would warrant expansion to other substances of abuse and a larger multisite confirmatory efficacy trial in Veterans with AUD. Results of the study will inform the utility of AAT as an adjunctive AUD treatment for Veterans, potentially offering a novel, low-cost, and portable alternative option to improve recovery in these individuals. Consistent with the RR&D mission to maximize "functional independence, quality of life and participation in their lives and community," the project will provide a foundation for neuroscience-based alternative therapeutic options to improve recovery in Veterans with AUD.
NCTid (if applicable)